What causes pain in the back of the head?

pain in the back of the headPain located in the back of your head could be due to a variety of different reasons, some more serious than others. Headaches, injuries, and even some diseases are known to cause tension and pain in the back of the head, so how can you tell when the condition is serious? Find out just what can cause these pains and when to seek the attention of a medical expert below.




12 causes of pain in the back of the head

Muscle tension and fatigue Sitting in one position for long periods of time can lead to sharp pain in the back of your head. Relieve this discomfort by stretching throughout the day and changing positions if possible, as well as trying to lower your stress level.

 Migraine Worse than your average headache, migraines can be severe and debilitating for those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from them, and can cause nausea and vision disturbances. Migraines are characterized by throbbing and shooting head pain in the back of the head.

Tension headaches – If you are experiencing pain on the right side of the back of your head, it may be due to a tension headache. These headaches are characterized by a dull pain that feels like pressure around the back and side of your head.

Sex and exercise – Vigorous exercise and sex can result in what physicians refer to as an orgasmic headache, usually characterized by pain in the back of the head due to constricting blood vessels.

Occipital neuralgia – An injury to the occipital nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord to the base of your neck can cause symptoms similar to a migraine, such as sharp pains in the back of the neck and head, and at the base of your skull.

Trigeminal neuralgia Another cause of pain on the right side of the back of the head. Trigeminal neuralgia is cause by blood vessels compressing your trigeminal nerve, and can result in burning face pain as well as pain in the back of the head.

Temporal arteritis Damage and inflammation to the arteries that carry blood to the head can result in pain at the back of the head and neck and can be caused by weakened immunity or use of antibiotics.

Arthritis headaches – These headaches are caused by arthritis of the spine and/or neck, and are felt at the back of the head. They worsen with movement.

Rebound headaches – Using over-the-counter painkillers too often—10 or more times a month—can result in headaches all over your head that last for a full day and are accompanied by restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.

Brain tumors – Sharp pain specifically found on the left side of the back of the head may be caused by a brain tumor. Tumors in the brain can cause damage to brain tissue and nerves that can cause head pain, vision problems, loss of sensation in the extremities, hearing loss, and dizziness while feeling as though there is excessive pressure in the skull.

Sleep apnea This sleep disorder can result in frequent headaches, most commonly occurring at the back of the head.

Sinusitis – As sinuses become more inflamed, the pain found in the face and forehead associated with sinusitis can spread to the back of the head.

Pain in the back of the head due to diseases

Cancer metastasis to skull – Spread of an existing cancer to the base of the skull can be characterized by pain in the back of the head, as well as difficulty swallowing and speaking.

Parkinson’s disease Approximately one third of people suffering from Parkinson’s experience pain in the back of the head and neck.

Dengue fever – Those with dengue fever suffer from severe headaches and high fevers, with 20 percent of those headaches located in the back of the head.

Thyrotoxicosis – Also referred to as hypothyroidism, thyrotoxicosis is often diagnosed as Grave’s disease and characterized by pain in the back of the head.

Back of head pain due to physical stimulus

High altitude – Headaches in those not accustomed to high altitudes are common, though only four percent of these headaches occur in the back of the head.

Low pressure – Low pressure headaches are often experienced at the sides of the head, though many find that they experience pain in the back of the head that worsens with physical activity.

Cardiac cephalgia – Pain in the back of the head may also be caused by cardiac events, such as heart attack, as one study found that 33 percent of heart attack victims experienced pain in the back of the head that was cured by opening the coronary arteries.


Cough – Coughing is known to trigger headaches, and in 35 percent of people, these headaches form in the back of the head.

Neck muscle injuries – Pain that is caused by injury to the neck can often radiate from the neck and shoulders up to the back of the head near the neck, as often seen in cases of whiplash.

When to see a doctor

If a persistent headache is becoming worse, or you are experiencing a rash, fever, or neck stiffness, along with pain at the back of the head, you should contact your doctor immediately. Medical attention is also recommended if your headaches are accompanied by a red eye, cognitive changes, or swelling and tenderness in the jaw. Medical professionals equipped to diagnose and treat pain in the back of the head include cardiologists, traumatologists, neurologists, doctors of medical physical training, and masseuses.

Related: Can dry eyes cause migraines and headaches?

Author Bio

Mohan Garikiparithi got his degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade before he shifted his focus to the field of health communications. During his active practice he served as the head of the Dept. of Microbiology in a diagnostic centre in India. On a three-year communications program in Germany, Mohan developed a keen interest in German Medicine (Homoeopathy), and other alternative systems of medicine. He now advocates treating different medical conditions without the use of traditional drugs. An ardent squash player, Mohan believes in the importance of fitness and wellness.


Related Reading: